A day with the field investigators
Around three years ago, Father Desbois realized that we had to be even more effective in the field and that we should have a small team working separately from the main team conducting the interviews.
This small team, generally composed of two or three people, go to a certain village each day, where the team has to investigate. In doing this, they are able to ask the local authorities for information as well as seek out potential witnesses. This what we call “de porte à porte” (door to door), which means that we knock on the doors of houses in small villages to ask elderly people: “Were you here during the War?” If the answer is yes, then we do a pre-interview in order to find out what the witness saw and then ask if he or she will agree to be interviewed by our team.
Our first stop was the police station in the city of Kinguissep. Dennis got out of the car with some of Yahad’s visual materials to explain to the police what we wanted to do. Then, the police sent us to see the mayor. We arrived at a big building, completely Soviet in style and once again, Dennis explained at the front desk why we were there. They sent us to the 4th floor, where the office of the mayor was located. The mayor was not in the office, of course, and his attaché was not there either. We waited for a while and then finally a lady came to the hall and asked Dennis to follow her. Hannita and I stayed in the hall, waiting for the meeting to finish. Not even ten minutes had passed when Dennis came out of the office and explained to us that now we had to go to see the mayor of another district in a small village 10 kilometers away from Kinguissep. It was already noon!
We went to the village of Iamskovitsy, where according to the archives, 27 civilians were killed by stabbing in the village. We could not find the mayor, but Dennis started to ask some elderly people we crossed in the streets if they had any information about the killings. No luck!
The telephone rang and the mayor asked Dennis to go back to Kinguissep to meet with the President of the Veterans’ Association of the city. We went back to the town and when we arrived, the president was not there. I began to understand the difficulties of finding witnesses in some cases and why we decided to change the system by sending the field investigators into the town one day before the main team.
We did not have too much time for lunch and it was already 2PM. Dennis asked us to drop him off at the city hall while we went to eat a hamburger at McDonald’s. I could not resist taking a picture of the famous restaurant with its name written in Cyrillic letters.
Finally, Dennis called us and told us that all the veterans went to Saint Petersburg for a concert and wouldn’t be back until late at night, but he could talk to a couple of them beforehand. He met a man who worked in a labor camp and saw the War Prisoners and the Jews.
We parked the car, went into an office and started to discuss. We called Michal, the team leader, to explain what we found and if we should come back the next day to conduct the interviews.
It was half past four in the afternoon, the sun had already set a while ago and I had the feeling that it had been a very short day. We took the road back to Gatchina.